Where the Common Ground Lies…


Sarah Mui (recipient of the 2016 ACC Hsin Chong - K.N. Godfrey Yeh Education Fund – Young Architects’ Award) is Design Director and Co-Founder of One Bite Design Studio, a Hong Kong multidisciplinary design practice.  She is actively engaged with the community through her work as an exhibitor and curator.  She served as Curator for the community-based arts organization Very Hong Kong in 2013 and has been a designer for Urban Diary since then.  In 2016, Sarah won the Young Architects' Award to make an excursion to the U.S. in 2017, during which she observed architectural practices in the states and met with non-government organizations working with the ageing community.  In this feature, Sarah shares with us her experience meeting U.S.-based non-government organizations and her musings on the common ground between Hong Kong, New York City, and Los Angeles during her excursion.

New York was my first destination and it was my first time to the city. I found it impossible to define New York, but New Yorkers are very easy to be spotted by their mixed hatred and love for the city. Their passion for their city has given me a big hit. And, in a lot of ways, we share similar sentiments in New York and Hong Kong towards our own places of living.

Social Battlefields

Attending the Municipal Art Society (MAS) Summit 2017 has brought me to see what the people at the frontline are fighting for their city and citizens. Battles for minority group, environmental resilience, ageing population, helpless youth, and degenerated street space were discussed in the summit and debated. It was amazing to see what the city advocates were trying to do in different areas, through a wide range of techniques and experiments. For instance, Nesterly was set up by two master students (recently graduated) from MIT as a matching platform to pair up home-alone elderly with university graduates to become flat-mates. Seeing the disconnection in rent and ageing population, this initiative was trying to tackle a few social problems at the same time through one platform. The Accidental Skyline annual report done by the MAS revealed to the public what changes were going to be made to the city skyline and encouraged everyone to act against undesirable changes to protect their cityscape and public space. Every city struggles, but struggles shouldn’t stop any action.

Nesterly cofounders Noelle Marcus (left) and Rachel Goor (right) at the Municipal Art Society (MAS) Summit 2017


I believe no one would argue about the vibrant cityscape of New York, the mix of old and new, encircling the huge Central Park. Walking around New York was very pleasant, despite that New Yorkers walked as fast as Hong Kong people, the density of the city had a very comfortable rhythm of streets and public spaces. Every district had a different atmosphere, not only visible from the architecture, but from the lifestyle it had engendered as well. Brooklyn, as recommended by every ACC friend, was amazing, from the tiny picture frame shop, to the wallpaper factory that produced wallpaper with special smells (Yes! Wall paper with literally a lemon scent!), to the spacious and lively promenade with different sports grounds transformed from old piers. Brooklyn was full of surprises. The best that I have visited include the Bond Collective co-working space where an old factory building was regenerated into a workspace, and the FEED shop which is a social-conscious enterprise that inhabits a transformed old business building.

 (From left to right) The Bond Collective co-working space, the wallpaper factory, and FEED


It was a very treasurable opportunity for me to have met a lot of amazing people in New York. The best part of the meeting with “Project for Public Spaces” was in fact an ad-hoc meet-up with Hong Kong creative group MaD! A sharing about methodologies and experiments for placemaking and public space gave me good insights on the cultural differences and similarities of the two cities. Improving a city is undoubtedly a continuous effort to change people’s perceptions and habits. Learning the laughs and tears of each experiment reinforced the need for collaboration and open platforms for public space initiatives. Meetings with Wells Megalli from Deborah Berke Partners and Matthew from the Blank Space Projects both covered an important introduction to the special architectural practices in New York. Of course, last but not least, our dearest James Belluardo (a dear friend of ACC and seasoned architect based in New York) gave me the best tour around New York and was the warmest host! Thank you so much!

Project for Public Spaces office

Sarah (far right) with representatives of Project for Public Spaces and MaD

The livability of New York lies in the rich diversity of the good and bad. A city cannot be distilled to either side alone. What Roz Chast wrote in her latest illustration book, “Going into Town, A Love Letter to New York” gave the perfect ending introduction to the city: - “But New York came back. This is the best place in the world, an experiment, a melting pot, a fight to the death, an opera, a musical comedy, a tragedy, none of the above, all of the above. We’re a target for seekers and dreamers and also nuts. We live here anyway.” 

Los Angeles was on a different end of the spectrum. I do not drive, so travelling in L.A. was a bit messy for me. It was pretty amazing to see a city with literally no taxi, but Uber. The two weeks spent in the city has submerged me in a play of art and history, in a very enjoyable way.

Continuation with History

The heart of L.A. was full of a mix of old buildings and new contents. The variety of adaptive reused old buildings was amazingly rich. The Grand Central Market, the Last Bookstore, and the Ace Hotel in the Downtown were some examples. Injecting art in the process of adaptive reuse seems to be a regular practice in the city, and there was a strongly advocated awareness about keeping the city vivid through art in public spaces and regeneration areas. In our process of city development, is there anything that Hong Kong could examine through the examples of L.A.? The city of angels has showcased a meaningful exploration of this interplay with its history.

Art in public spaces and regeneration areas in LA

I was very thankful for this intriguing opportunity with the fellowship program. I believe this is the beginning of further understanding for a different culture and the growth of mutual inspiration. I look forward to having more explorations in the States and to applying what I learnt from the common ground between the U.S. and Hong Kong on my architectural journey back in Hong Kong.